Teaching English in Thailand, Traveling, Bone-Dry Humor, Other Stuff Too

Ready, Set, Teach


Part of my school from the outside

On my first day of teaching, I was taken into a room, along with three other foreign teachers. We sat in a row facing across the table towards a row of school directors who spoke among themselves in Thai for over an hour, occasionally prodding the head of the school’s English department–the only director who speaks enough English to come close to bilingual status–to ask us questions about our teaching experience and our preferences.

“You will teach P4?”

“Uhhh, yes.” I have learned to just say “yes” in situations like this.

P4 is short for Primary 4, meaning 4th grade.

“P4 very naughty.”


“Naughty, naughty. P4.”


“You cannot hit student.” Followed by a brief demonstration of hitting another director on the shoulder.

“Okay.” Damn, so much for my first lesson plan.

Then the directors stood up, and led us out of the room, splitting us up to go to our various offices. I sat in a chair for awhile, until a woman beckoned me out of the room, pointed to an old wooden desk in the hallway, and said, “You.” I helped carry it into the office, then moved around other furniture as needed. Eventually I was sitting at my desk, completely unsure what the rest of my day would hold, how many classes I would teach (if any), what my instructions would be (if any), and what my curriculum would be (if any). I have a personal Thai teaching assistant, a slightly older woman who speaks almost no English but is very kind, and usually communicates mostly with smiles and gestures. I would later learn that she comes in and out of my classes to see how things are going and translate for students if needed. Every time she walked into the room, my heart would start racing slightly. After another hour like this, she summoned me to my post with, “Ooooookay. Teacha, teacha. Ohhhhh…” I followed her down the hall, and she presented the open doorway to me with her arms. Inside were between 40 and 50 kids dressed in uniforms. They stood bolt upright and, in unison, shouted, “Good Morning, Teacha!!”

“Good morning, class. My name is…Teacher Derek.” I wrote my name on the chalkboard.

“D – Lake.” “D – Loke.” “Jay – Lee.” (My 2nd favorite, after Captain America). “Day- Rique.”

“Yes. Good.”

No plan, no instructions, no topic, no English, no problem. That’s when I decided to be a linguistic juggernaut. I basked for a moment in the gloriously absent ceremony of it all before embarking on the most compelling, culturally sensitive, ingeniously executed lesson in the history of 4th grade TEFL. I taught them some greetings, some different things to say when asked “How are you?” and then we played hangman. To be fair, after everything I’ve absorbed from other TEFL teachers, I half-expected to be thrown into it like this. But you never know until you get there. And in some ways, that’s kind of the point of doing this in the first place. As far as I’m concerned, my first day was pretty average for TEFL in Thailand, if not relatively smooth, like–since onions are the go-to analogy vegetable–an onion skin when you’re just beginning to question its freshness but you eat it anyway and it’s not that bad, especially if you improvise and grill it. Grilled onions are delicious. Throw some salt and red and black pepper in there. Some Olive oil. You know what I’m talking about.

1 Comment

  1. nanruesch's Gravatar nanruesch
    November 18, 2014    

    This one made me laugh out loud.

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